<!--:es-->Ex-President Gerald Ford dies!<!--:-->

Ex-President Gerald Ford dies!

PALM DESERT, California – Gerald Ford, whose brief U.S. presidency was defined by his controversial pardon of Richard Nixon, was honored on Wednesday as a man who tried to heal the nation’s divisions after the Watergate scandal.

The oldest living president at 93, Ford died on Tuesday of undisclosed causes at his home in California.

Ford was the only U.S. president not elected to either the presidency or vice presidency. He was appointed vice president in 1973 after Nixon’s original vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned to avoid prosecution on corruption charges.

Then Nixon became the only U.S. president to resign from office, on August 9, 1974, to avoid impeachment for covering up the politically motivated burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.

In his inaugural address, Ford famously vowed to Americans that “our long national nightmare is over.”

One month later, on September 8, 1974, Ford stirred enduring controversy by granting Nixon “a full, free and absolute pardon” for any crime he may have committed in office.

Ford, who had served 26 years as a congressman from Michigan and was Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time of his appointment as vice president, defended the pardon until his death.

But many criticized it as a misguided gesture that let Nixon off the hook. It became a key issue in Ford’s bid for election to a second term and is widely seen as contributing to his defeat by Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.

The Watergate scandal sparked a constitutional crisis which, along with the Vietnam War, shattered Americans’ faith in their government and marked the climax of a bitterly divisive era encompassing racial conflict and the counterculture movement of the 1960s.

President George W. Bush, speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, said that Ford had helped heal the nation — a sentiment that was echoed by his father, former president George H.W. Bush, and by Ford’s two Democratic successors, Carter and Bill Clinton.

“For a nation that needed healing and an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most,” Bush said. He ordered the American flag be displayed at half-staff at the White House and other U.S. government and military buildings for 30 days.

Ford’s 2-1/2 year presidency was marked by two assassination attempts; the fall of Vietnam to communist forces; Cambodian seizure of a U.S. freighter that prompted him to send U.S. troops on a rescue mission; and constant fights with Congress. He was also widely parodied for a clumsiness that belied his college athleticism as a football star.


Ford, a Navy officer during World War II, revived questions about his intellect and grasp of issues with a notorious gaffe in a televised campaign debate against Carter in 1976. He asserted in defense of his foreign policies that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

He fell just short in his bid to overcome Carter’s 30-point lead in the polls and lost one of the closest elections in U.S. history.

Carter later became a friend and on Wednesday described Ford as a man who rose above Washington bipartisanship. “An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation’s history,” Carter said in a statement.

Ford had been ailing and largely out of the public eye for several years. He died at 6:45 p.m. (0245 GMT) on Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, his office said.

“His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country,” his wife Betty Ford said in a statement.

His death leaves three living former presidents — George H.W. Bush, Carter and Clinton.

Bush, who is now the oldest at 82, a few months senior to Carter, said he owed “much of my life in politics to Jerry Ford,” who he recalled campaigned for him when Bush ran for Congress and later named Bush as chief U.S. envoy to China.

“To his great credit, he (Ford) was the same hard-working, down-to-earth person the day he left the White House as he was when he first entered Congress almost 30 years earlier,” Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, said in a statement.

Ford, who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 14, 1913, is survived by four children and his wife of 58 years, Betty. The Betty Ford Center she helped found in 1982 is viewed as a top center for treating drug and alcohol abuse.

Funeral services, expected to take place after his body lies in state, were to be held in Washington and Grand Rapids, Michigan, his boyhood home.